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Pakistan Army Chief Rallies Troops in Northwest Offensive


Pakistan's army chief has rallied support for the military's ongoing offensive against the Taliban, flying over the battle zone in a fighter plane and giving a televised address.

A day after officials said the military is planning to target the Taliban stronghold in South Waziristan, General Ashfaq Kayani said the offensive is aimed at bringing militants to what he called the right path. He said prominent Taliban leaders are not Islamic scholars, but enemies of the country and Islam.

In remarks broadcast on private Pakistani television networks, he also highlighted the need to avoid civilian casualties.

While the military has not reported new fighting in South Waziristan, reports from the region indicate some civilians have begun fleeing their homes in anticipation of clashes.

South Waziristan is the home of top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.

On Sunday, the governor of North West Frontier Province, Owais Ghani, said the government felt it had no choice but to resort to force against Mehsud in his South Waziristan stronghold, near the Afghan border.

Mehsud has claimed responsibility for many attacks across Pakistan in recent months, including suicide bombings. He is believed to be a key link between Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

On Monday, Pakistan's military says its forces are continuing an offensive against Taliban fighters in the northwest, killing six suspected militants in the last 24 hours.

The army reported clashes with militants in the greater Swat valley, as well as Taliban positions in Bannu.

In Dir, the army says a civilian militia killed five suspected militants in recent fighting.

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